Three trends in the automobile industry will give consumers more choices in SUVs, will make new vehicles safer and will test U.S. consumers’ interest in electric vehicles (EVs).
For 2016 and beyond, consumers will be able to pick from a new and expanding group of smaller, more fuel-efficient subcompact SUVs. Meanwhile, regulators, safety advocates and automakers are coming together to expand the availability of automatic emergency-braking systems, which is a technology that can avert many crashes. Finally, we’re looking forward to a major showdown in 2017 of three EVs at affordable prices that will have 200-mile ranges.
MORE COMPACT. Americans can’t seem to get enough SUVs. They account for roughly 4 in 10 new vehicles that are sold in the United States. SUV sales increased by 11 percent in August 2015 from August 2014, while overall vehicle sales fell by 3 percent during that same period, according to Autodata, which is an automotive-research company.
As a result, automakers are expanding and updating their SUV lineups. In the past 2 years, we’ve seen the emergence of a new category: subcompact SUVs. We regard these as SUVs that are less than 170 inches long, which is about 10 inches shorter than is typical for a compact SUV. We counted 10 subcompact SUVs at press time: two from Jeep, and one each from Buick, Chevrolet, Fiat, Honda, Mazda, MINI, Mitsubishi and Nissan. Except for Jeep’s Wrangler, all were introduced or updated for the 2015 or 2016 model years.
We expect that within 2 years, every major brand will offer at least one subcompact SUV.
Roughly 485,000 subcompact SUVs were sold in 2014, which accounted for 2.9 percent of all new-vehicle sales, according to Ed Kim of AutoPacific, which is an automotive-research company. That number will grow to 765,000, or about 4.5 percent of the overall market, by 2019, Kim says. It’s rare for a new vehicle category to emerge so quickly, and it’s even more rare for it to have such rapid growth.
Kim says the subcompact-SUV growth in the next 2 years will come at the expense of compact sedans. Subcompact SUVs and compact sedans typically start at $20,000.
“There is a lot of overlap in price with compact sedans, and [subcompact SUVs] are seen as more interesting and practical,” Kim says.
Subcompact SUVs deliver more cargo space than do their compact- sedan counterparts. For instance, Honda’s 2016 HR-V subcompact SUV provides 24.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, while the Honda Civic compact sedan provides just 12.5 cubic feet of trunk space.
Apple to Develop an Electric Vehicle
Subcompact SUVs are at least 10 inches shorter than are compact sedans and, therefore, better suited for tight city streets and tight parking spots. Subcompact SUVs have a higher driving position than most sedans do, which means that they provide better driving visibility. Subcompact SUVs also offer all-wheel drive, which typically isn’t available in compact sedans.
Meanwhile, subcompact SUVs’ light weight and small engines deliver fuel economy that lags compacts and midsize cars only slightly. The fuel economy for a two-wheel-drive subcompact SUV typically averages in the mid-to-high 20s for city driving and low-to-mid 30s on highways. (Subtract 2–3 mpg for all-wheel-drive versions.)
In the next 5 years, subcompact SUVs will become even more efficient. Experts tell us that the conventional or turbocharged gasoline engines likely will be downsized through smaller displacement and fewer cylinders and perhaps even supplemented with diesel, hybrid or plug-in options.
Among the current subcompact SUV holdouts, four nonluxury brands each seem to be moving toward the launch of a subcompact SUV in the United States in the next 3 years.
Toyota showed a two-door subcompact SUV, the C-HR, at the 2014 Paris Motor Show. Later, at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz told trade journal Automotive News, “[Subcompact SUVs are] obviously a segment we have to be in.”